The traditional sites for 'runaway' productions have been Canada, Britain and Mexico. Now, it's just as likely to be Australia. In the last few years, Fox Studios in Sydney and the Warner Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast have been home to Hollywood runaways such as The Matrix series, Star Wars, Mission Impossible 2, Farscape, Scooby Doo and Peter Pan. Soon, Melbourne's Docklands will be touting for business.
In April this year, in the Blue Mountains National Park outside Sydney, a handful of people that the Daily Telegraph and the Sun-Herald depicted as dole bludgers, ratbags and tree-huggers, stopped the filming of scenes for Stealth, an A$600 million Hollywood blockbuster.
These Blue Mountains community members were arrested for trying to enforce NSW National Parks and Wildlife laws that expressly forbid the shooting of a commercial film in a wilderness area; laws that the State government ignored when on the 15 April, Mr Simon Smith, the delegate on behalf of Mr Bob Debus, the Director-General of the Department of Environment and Conservation, gave approval for a special filming licence (consent for which was given on the 26 April by Mr Debus), to allow AFG Talons Productions to film scenes for their movie Stealth in a wilderness site.
AFG Talons Productions media liaison department describes Stealth as a 'military action adventure'. The story is that the latest model of stealth bomber, programmed with artificial intelligence and armed with nuclear weapons, becomes sentient, runs amok and threatens all civilization (like Hal in 2001 or the shoot 'em up, android cowboy portrayed by Yul Brynner in Westworld or the Terminator movies or ...).
The environmental protesters could be considered local heroes, but their victory has wider implications. As a direct result, Premier Bob Carr has brought in The Filming Approval Act 2004, which, while it increases protection for wilderness areas, has also curtailed the rights of communities to appeal against the approval granted for filming on environmentally sensitive local wilderness sites.
Outside Wentworth Falls cemetery, I make a turn off from the extensive roadworks widening the Blue Mountains highway from two suicidal lanes to four. As I skid through the gravel and broken macadam, I'm reminded that Joel Fasano wrote the screenplay of his straight-to-DVD horror film Darkness Falls right here in Wentworth Falls. Ironically, to get it produced, and even though it was shot in and around Melbourne, the production company, Blue Star Production, set it in Connecticut and all the characters were voiced with generic US accents.
Les Coyne has a reassuringly firm handshake. 'I've been expecting you', he says, ushering me into his phone booth-sized hallway.
The living room, with its wall to ceiling glass is cosy and warm for this freakish Autumn evening. Freakish, because there's a light mist and some rain and even the mildest precipitation is something these drought stricken mountains haven't seen in a very long while.
Les is right about his cream manila folder. The size of a phone directory, it's an impressive piece of information management. Newspaper articles, chains of correspondence: each leaf hole-punched and spiked, each document chronologically filed and dated.
Lea taps his index finger on the top document:
It was in December last year that the Blue Mountains Conservation Society first made this submission to the Minister for the Environment, Mr Bob Debus, pointing out that the filming of Stealth--a Hollywood military adventure movie--in a Blue Mountains wilderness area was illegal.
Wiry, sixty-something, dapper, Les Coyne is up in arms because the State Government flouted the law. Unlike me, Lea has nothing against what I'll describe here as just another big dumb Hollywood blockbuster. And let me also state my position, that I'm kind of pissed off about Stealth using the pristine wilderness and extraordinary beauty of the Grose Valley Wilderness as a backlet to stage explosive war scenes supposedly set in North Korea. …